Saturday, July 20, 2024


The emergence of Expressionism almost at the same time among various cities in Germany was as a result of widespread anxiety due to the fact that people were experiencing an increase in discordant relationships towards the world as well as trying to accompany false feelings of spirituality and originality. This led to a situation where symbols and academic art became part of the reaction. Symbols that were used in the late nineteenth century art would later become the main inspiration of expressionism. Some of the main protagonist who proved to be quite influential as they promoted Expressionism includes; Edvard MunchVincent van Gogh and James Ensor. The three in particular encouraged form distortion and deployment of strong colors that were specifically used to convey various anxieties and wishes. The period between the year 1905 and 1920 saw one of the most classic phases of the expressionist movement which spread to almost every part of Europe. It is this classic phase that would later inspire Abstract Expressionism, which emerged strong since its impact was felt in Germany art throughout the rest of the century. Most important too is the fact that it became an essential precursor to the so called Neo-Expressionist artists of the 1980s.

The invention of Expressionism meant new standards would be used in the creation and judgment of art. It was expected that art would now originate from within the artist, instead of just depicting the external visual universe. It also changed the standards that were used to assess the quality any art work. The new standards now required the character of the artist’s feelings would be used instead of composition analysis.

There were a number of techniques that were used by Expressionist and they included; such as swaying, swirling and exaggeratedly executed brushstrokes. These techniques were the mainly used by expressionist artist to depict their subjects. The intention that motivated the Expressionist artists to use these techniques was to try and express the strong emotional state of the artist as a reaction to anxieties that were being expressed in the modern world.

When Expressionist started to confront urban world in the early 20th century, they first began by trying to develop a powerful method that was focused on social criticism, they used their art work specifically by using bold colors and serpentine figural renderings. They went ahead and used alienated individuals to try and represent a psychological result of modern urbanization. On the other hand they used prostitutes to send a message on the role of capitalism and how it can cause emotional difference among people within cities.


By the time that a new century was dawning in Europe, there already was a significant movement of artistic styles as well as vision. It is this eruption in styles and vision which was a response to major changes in the general feeling of society. A critical look to the situation gives the explanation that it is the changes that occurred in society environment that was as a result of massive efforts towards urbanization and new technologies that in the end changed how people view the world. It is as a result of these changes that all the artists of the moment had to reflect the psychological impact of the developments; they were able to succeed in this aspect because they shifted from a realistic representation of what was just seen by the eye to emotional and psychological styles that showed how the world affected them. Thanks to Edvard Munch who was a post-Impressionist artist in Norway, the roots of Expressionism can be traced; credit also goes to Gustav Klimt in the Vienna Secession. Later Expressionism grew until it finally gained roots in Germany in the year 1905.

Edvard Munch who was a painter in the late nineteenth-century Norwegian Post-Impressionist emerged as a credible source of inspiration to Expressionists. He was characterized by being a vibrant figure. Most important is the fact that he had some nice emotionally charged works that gave way to new dimension to introspective expressions. Specifically, a frenetic canvas which was Munch’s work expressed the anxiety that individuals in the new modernized European society experienced; He also in the year 1893 painted one of the most famous paintings The Scream. He used this to express a central theme of conflict that was gaining roots in the modern world between spirituality and modernity. Edvard spent most of his time in Germany which put him into direct contact with Expressionist making his work well known and appreciated by 1905.

Gustav Klimt in Austria

Gustav was another important figure in the late 19th century; he is one of those individuals that are credited to having made great impact to the development of Expressionism. He worked in the Austrian Art Nouveau style of the Vienna Secession. He was specifically known for his love for lavish mode that painted his subjects with bright palette and patterned surfaces that were quite elaborate as well as elongated bodies. He inspired the use of gestural brushwork, exotic colors and jagged forms by Expressionists. In the year 1909 at an exhibition of his work, Gustav Klimt got the chance to mentor Egon Schiele. He began by introducing him to the works of Van Gogh and Edvard Munch, among many others.

The Advent of Expressionism in Germany

During its emergence in the year 1905 Expressionism growth was rapid since it attracted various artists and styles. Fritz Bleyl, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel Karl and Schmidt-Rottluff, were a group of German architecture students in the city of Dresden. They all had great desire to become great painters. They began by forming a group known as Die Brucke meaning the Bridge in the city of Dresden. It only took six years, which is in the year1911, that a similar group of young artists was formed and was known as Der Blaue Reiter meaning The Blue Rider in the city of Munich. The group was formed by Wassily Kandinsky after his painting had been rejected in a local exhibition dubbed as The Last Judgment (1910). The other members of Kandinsky, the group were; Paul KleeAmedeo ModiglianiMarc Chagall and Piet Mondrian among others, whom formed the loosely associated group. The Term “Expressionism” Antonin Matejcek was a art Historian from Czech, it is though that he coined the term “Expressionism” in the year 1910. His intention was that the term would be used to denote the opposite of Impressionism. Impressionists was mainly used to try and express human form and the majesty of nature via paint, Expressionists, in Matejcek’s opinion sought to try and express inner life, through painting of realist but harsh subject matters. It is however important to give note to the fact that; neither Die Brücke, nor any other similar sub-movements, at any time considered themselves as Expressionist. The term was only used in the beginning of the century, to widely refer to a variety of styles that included Post-Impressionism. Der Blaue Reiter: Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Macke and Franz Marc Der Blaue Reiter group artist were all inclined towards; symbolic content, abstraction, symbolic and spiritual allusion. The group tried to express emotional aspects of man via renderings that were highly symbolic as well as brightly colored. As a matter of fact their name is an inspiration from the symbol of a rider and a horse, as derived from one of Kandinsky’s paintings; Wassily Kandinsky, used the rider to try and symbolize transition to the spiritual realm from the tangible world. This came out as an incredible metaphor for artistic practice. This notion would later become a central principle for other members like Paul Klee, Franz Marc and Auguste Macke; they transcended realistic depiction and delving into abstraction.

Despite the fact that Der Blaue Reiter group did not have any memorandum of understanding, aesthetic innovation got to unite all the members. This was influenced by primitive and medieval art forms, Fauvism and Cubism. Sadly though, the group did not last long as a result of the outbreak of World War I in 1914. As a result Franz Marc and Auguste Macke found their way to the German military service unfortunately they both were killed soon after. The other members who were Russians- Wassily Kandinsky, Alexej von Jawlensky, and others – return home which led to dissolution of Der Blaue Reiter immediately thereafter. French Expressionism: Rouault, and Chagall A number of artist that were beyond the borders of Germany are identified in terms of style as a result of Expressionism’s elasticity. Ironically Georges Rouault, who is a French artist and was at times described as an Expressionist, is thought to have influenced the Germans, instead of the Germans influencing him. He is believed to have acquired the art of vivid use of color and distortion of form from Fauvism. This is different from his German Expressionist counterparts; George Rouault expressed affinity for his predecessors specifically Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir who were both Impressionist. Having been famous for his is devotion to religious subjects, and particular his vast depictions of the crucifixion that are rendered in layers of paint and rich color.

Marc Chagall who was a Russian-French Jewish was inspired by Fauvism, Cubism and Symbolism which led him to create his own brand of Expressionism. He mostly depicted dreamy scenes that were common in his Belarusian hometown, Vitebsk. It was while he was in Paris in the heights of the modernist avant-garde, that he developed an eccentric motif which was a visual language. It mostly involved; “ghostly figures that were floating in the sky, gigantic fiddler that seemed to dance on miniature dollhouses, transparent wombs and livestock, within the transparent wombs were; tiny offspring that slept upside down.” His work had to wait until the year 1914, when it was exhibited in Berlin; it would later have major impact among the German Expressionists that extended to beyond World War I. He however at no time associated his work to any movement in particular; he only considered his repertoire to be images that were meaningful to him. Despite the fact all his images inspired many with the Surrealists being among them. He gained a lot of respect, and in particular Pablo Picasso 1950s made a remark that, the moment when Henri Matisse is gone, Chagall becomes the only painter remaining who understands what color really is. Further Developments and Legacy German Expressionism inspired may other Austrian artists such as Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka and. The only minor difference was the fact that these artists got to interpret a style in their individual and personal way. They at no time formed an official association just like the Germans did. Kokoschka and Schiele were driven by the feeling that they needed to try and express the decadence that was being expressed in modern Austria via similarly expressive representations of the human body; They perfectly did this by using ;garish colors, sinuous lines and distorted figures. Both Kokoschka and Schiele painted and portrayed their subjects with high sexual and psychological themes. Despite the fact that Kokoschka and Schiele were both central proponents of the Expressionism movement in Austria, Kokoschka was mainly involved in the circles of German Expressionist; In fact in the year 1910 he left Austria and moved all the way to Germany. In the Initial stages Kokoschka worked in a Viennese Art Nouveau style. Early 1908, Kokoschka instinctively worked as an Expressionist, in his early portraits he was quite passionate about trying to expose an inner sensibility of the sitter. Schiele on the other hand decided to leave Vienna in 1912, he however choose to remained in Austria, he continued with his work and exhibited his work until he met his death that killed many other people in the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918.

The original Expressionist movement’s concepts on primitivism, spirituality as well as the value of abstract art in a big way influenced a number of movements that were not related, among them Abstract Expressionism. The concepts of the modern world did not in any way have a similar script with the Expressionists, which was a result of its general physical look and its instinctive discomfort with the modern world. This created antagonistic attitudes that continued to characterize various avant-garde movements in the whole century.

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